Metamaterials Used To Help Reduce MRI Scanning Time

Researchers from The Netherlands, Australia, and Russia have developed a new technology that helps to reduce scanning time by more than 50% in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). With this new technology hospitals can increase the number of scans, without having to change equipment.

The new technology is achieved by spreading a layer of metamaterials on the scanners bed, improving the signal-to-noise ratio. The research is published in the latest issue of Advanced Materials. UK company MediWise specialize in commercializing metamaterials for medial applications, and are co-developers of this innovative technology.

MRI is a modern diagnostic method, widely used in neurology, biology, and medicine. Physiological changes occurring in our internal organs can be monitored using MRI scanning. An example of this is tissues affected by cancer, and they can be detected in the earliest stage through a MRI procedure. Although the quality of the resulting images will determine the possibility of an effective MRI diagnostics.

Scientists from ITMO University, Australian National University, Ioffe Physical-Technical Institute, University Medical Center Utrecht and Institute of Experimental Medicine RAMS have demonstrated  that metamaterials can enhance the quality of MRI images. These metamaterials are artificial periodic structures that interact with electromagnetic radiation in a unique manner.

This is the first real demonstration of the practical potential of metamaterials for MRI imaging enhancement and scanning time reduction. Our research may evolve into new healthcare applications and commercial products.

Yuri Kivshar, Head of the Nonlinear Physics Centre, Australian National University

In a MRI scanner, the signal-to-noise ratio can be increased in the scanned area by introducing a specifically designed metamaterial under the studied object. Due to this increase, an image with a higher resolution can be obtained within the same time period, or the examination can be carried out rapidly, resulting with the image resolution found in ordinary MRI scanners. The electric field, which is responsible for tissue heating that could compromise the safety of the MRI procedure, is suppressed by the metamaterial.

Recently problems relating to tissue heating have become relevant, with the development of ultra-high-field and high-field MRI scanners in the medical field. The benefits that enhanced image resolution provide have resulted in a demand for high-field MRI. Although, an increase in radiofrequency energy absorption results in tissue heating becoming substantial at higher fields. So the safety issue in ultra-high-field and high-field MRI scanners remains open.

The group of scientists focused on preserving high resolution and completely prevented the use of tissue heating. The solution has no involvement with the MRI scanner’s hardware, and instead demonstrates a cost effective, add-on device, that can be used with any type of MRI scanners.

Our metamaterial can be embedded directly into the patient table of any commercially available MRI scanner. However, in the future we see even more potential in the concept of special smart clothing for MRI scanning. Stripes of our metamaterial can be sewn in the clothes. The examination of patients, wearing such clothes, would lead to higher resolution MRI images, while the special design will enable a homogeneous enhancement of the signal-to-noise ratio, which does not pose any risk to the patients' health. As a result, with metamaterials you will be able to improve the characteristics of low-field MRI to the extent that their functionality is comparable to high-field MRI.

Alexey Slobozhanyuk, Researcher, International Laboratory "Applied Radiophysics"

The length of time an MRI scan takes can be an inconvenience for patients. The time taken for ordinary MRI devices can be 15 to 60 minutes, with patients required to be still throughout. Achieving a shorter procedure time and still gaining detailed images will make the experience more comfortable for the patient, and potentially reduce queuing times in hospitals.

"Our idea of using metamaterials in order to receive images with higher detalization will allow doctors to localize and study oncological diseases. Based on the images obtained with an MRI scanner, the surgeon determines the structure of the inflammation, which afterwards will serve as a blueprint for his scalpel during the operation." - says Yuri Kivshar.

Metamaterials have been proven to add value through their ability to process electromagnetic and sound waves in ways that no natural material can do. This leads to emerging business opportunities creating genuinely disruptive products. The scientific field of metamaterials in rapidly evolving and impacting traditional industries such as Aerospace, Telecoms, Cleantech and now Healthcare. The technology has the potential to extend the life of MRI imaging machines but more importantly, it will make the scan quicker, more accurate and safer to patients. We are honored to work alongside world leading academic partners, and to help advance this important innovation from the laboratory to the marketplace.

George Palikaras, Mediwise's Founder and CEO

The full name of the article: "Enhancement of Magnetic Resonance Imaging with Metasurfaces", Alexey P. Slobozhanyuk, Alexander N. Poddubny, et al. Advanced Materials, Jan. 11, 2016.

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